Rare episode of the forgotten 50's sitcom "The Beulah Show", The first sitcom to feature an African American woman in the lead role. Starring Hattie McDaniel, best known for her part in "Gone With The Wind". Although the show ran for several seasons, only 7 episodes still exist, Making this the TV equivalent of a "Partially lost film".
Title: The Beulah Show
Episode: Beulah Goes Gardening
“Beulah Goes Gardening.” Narr. Hattie McDaniel. Writ. Nathaniel Curtis. Dir. Richard L. Bare. Perf. Hattie McDaniel, Enerst Whiteman, David Bruce, Stuffy Singer. Prod. Hal Roach Studios. The Beulah Show. ABC. Los Angeles Affiliate. KECA-TV (MLA Format)
In many ways The Beulah Show followed the trending production of hybrid entertainment common in the 1950s. While original in terms of showcasing the first prominent female role for a Black Womyn as the star; it followed a growing trend of radio programming migrating into television programming through hybridized narratives. Other shows were coming to terms with the areas where variety show television was failing. As an answer to these failings, networks were attempting to create more broad based programming, that would capitalize on physical humor of these live shows, while toning down the crass elements that bothered conservatives. Past narrative formats were recycled as evolving entertainment desired to keep one foot in the past and one in the future.
In terms of Genre History this show was produced during the dawn of sitcoms in the United States. It helped the growing establishment of a new half hour television format. This format was characterized by, situational humor (i.e. getting ready for a school dance, planning a surprise birthday party, etc.), a suburban family, ongoing characters, solvable dilemma, maintaining status quo, physical comedy, connected narratives, episodic continuing narrative, and archetypical leader who is underappreciated by the family.
African American "Beulah Brown" premiered in 1939, when white american actor Marlin Hurt portrayed her on radio program "Fibber McGee and Molly." Following the success of the program on NBC, Beulah became an established character in the spin off radio series The Marlin Hurt and Beulah Show, in 1945. The white actor’s portrayal of this character continued as a type of “black voice” with which he continued to perform as Beulah. After Hurt’s death the NBC radio’s production of the show turned to Hattie McDaniel who was cast in the role, as the first African American to ever have a starring role in a network radio program, a feat initially applauded by the NAACP. The radio program became a television series when developed by Roland Reed Productions and picked up by ABC in 1950 as their first “ethnic” sitcom to prominently feature Black characters in leading roles. Given a prime time slot, the sitcom aired Tuesday nights at 7:30 ET from October 1950 to September 1953 to both praise and criticism.
The show would come to feature some of Hollywood’s most famous African American actresses of the time, including Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers, and Ethel Waters; all featured in the volatile cast that fluctuating due to controversy in the depiction of Beulah. Actor Percy Bud Harris, cast as Beulah’s love interest “Bill” reportedly left the show after getting request to act “Tomish.” The same controversy over the derogatory and stereotypical characterization of Black one dimensional “types” molding the likes of Beulah, Bill, and their close friend and fellow maid, Oriel; would come to mean the cancellation of the show after 87 episodes and 4 seasons in 1953.
November 23, 2010 Subject:
I started with Beulah in the 1940's on RADIO
After Grammer school at Normandie Ave and Santa Monica Blvd, my friend and I would walk to his house just two doors west of where they did the recording of the Beulah Show in a store front building on the south side of Fountain Avenue just west of Normandie Avenue. I remember very vividly a very NICE Marvin Miller (the announcer) and of course the very kind lady who kept telling my friend and I to stay in school and do good, Hattie McDaniel. They recorded the show on transcription. Sometimes we had all the chairs filled, maybe twenty of them, and other times just my friend and I were there. Hallo Shampoo was the sponsor then. As for the television show, I never cared for it, Hattie McDaniel - yes, the show, no thanks.
July 10, 2010 Subject:
just totally nauseating episode!!!
It appalls me to think anyone today believes this was typical American behavior in 1952. These upper class twits are bone idle and work shy. I'm sure they represent the way Hollywood execs lived but as for the rest of us moving from the cities or the small towns to the suburbs, this bears NO resemblance to any sort of reality. Why Beulah didn't go on strike, I'm sure I don't know. She surely could have. They were utterly helpless without her to baby them. They didn't even learn the lesson that they should lift a finger now and then around the house and show a bit of responsibility, just that they should give the gardener a raise. Wasn't THAT a nice lesson for their son!! I hope these useless idiots were the first up against the wall when the revolution came!
April 12, 2010 Subject:
Hattie McDonald was first class
Hattie McDonald was a wonderful actress. I enjoy seeing anything she is in. While "The Beulah show" may now be considered racist sterotyping, I feel Hattie gave her character dignity and sweetness.
March 20, 2010 Subject:
....Wuz Hazel Black..?...Don't Worry Bout Hattie...Had A Fine House In L.A...Won A Supreme Court Case To Live There...Had A Rolls With A White Chauffeur..!...Hattie's Wish (She Died In 1952 Of Breast Cancer) Was To Be Buried At Hollywood Memorial Park (Now Hollywood Forever)...But It Was A Whites Only Boneyard..But The New Owner Has Put Up A Centograph There Anyway..
March 19, 2010 Subject:
Reminiscent of South Africa
It's scary how similar the programme and its racial views were to my upbringing in South Africa in the 1980's. The whole issue of a white family with the black servants, the gardener (who we would have called the garden boy), Beulah bringing the food through to the dinner table etc... was almost like a flash back.
March 10, 2010 Subject:
Does this show sort of reminds you of Hazel from 1961 ?
May 17, 2009 Subject:
This was the first American television series to feature a Black actress in the lead role. Like "Amos and Andy" it started in 1950 and lasted one year longer than "Amos and Andy" until 1953. It is the only show that was really integrated. While the show may be considered racist for showing Beulah as a stereotypical maid in a white household, we should remember that this reflected a large part of society at the time. The show is funny and sweet once you get past the stereotypical premise.
I remember seeing the show in the afternoons on television. Since it went off the air in 1953, the year of my birth, I can only assume it was in reruns for a number of years afterwards.
I'm sorry to hear that most of episodes have been lost. They definitely have historical value as the only show to center around a black female character in the 1950's. There was not another television series with a black female character in the lead until "Julia" in 1968.
May 14, 2008 Subject:
"Somebody bawl for Beaulah?"
"Beaulah" was a spin-off character from the "Fibber McGee and Molly" radio program which you can find elsewhere here. What most peop[le don't know is that, on radio, the voice of Beaulah was actually supplied by Marlon Hurt---a white GUY. (You know now why you hear the gasps of laughter from the radio audience when Beaulah first begins to speak, don'tcha? Marlon had a habit of standing with his back to the microphone (and the audience) until he had to deliver his first line.
I give it three stars for its historical value as a TV show.